Arkansas football: 5 things I want to see Saturday vs. No. 11 Auburn
The Razorbacks are on a 3-game skid with hope quickly fading for a possible turnaround to the 2019 season. The 2-4 Hogs host No. 11 Auburn on Saturday morning with beleaguered Arkansas coach Chad Morris still searching to “find a way” to reverse course after losing 3 games by a combined total of 15 points.
Time is running out on the Razorbacks’ season and perhaps on Morris’ tenure as rumblings and rumors continue to rise in volume from Fayetteville.
All could be silenced with an upset victory over the No. 11 Tigers in Arkansas’ first home game since Sept. 21. Here are 5 things I want to see from the Razorbacks Saturday.
1. Consistent QB play
As much as Morris tried to prevent it, Arkansas has a real quarterback controversy. I don’t care which one does it, either Nick Starkel or Ben Hicks, but I’d like to see one of them step up and become the leader with consistent play from start to finish.
Who that might be is another question, one only Morris can answer. And as of early this week, he couldn’t.
“Nick and Ben will get the share of the 1 reps,” Morris said. “I think the whole thing is just consistency as a team, consistency as an offense. That’s really what we’re looking for. We’re trying to stay out of this (quarterback controversy) but that’s just where we’re at right now with it.”
Starkel has started the past 4 games, but has been replaced in the past 2 by Hicks, who started the first 2 games. One of the two needs to stop the merry-go-round and take charge. Perhaps that begins Saturday.
2. Healthy Rakeem Boyd
When healthy, Boyd is arguably the best back in the SEC. But he has had his share of injuries. The tough, hard-running back sprained his shoulder last week against Kentucky and as of early this week was not 100 percent. However, Morris believes Boyd will be ready to go Saturday.
“We anticipate him being fine this week and back out there,” Morris said.
Boyd leads the SEC in rushing with 617 yards.
“I think he’s playing as well as anybody,” Morris said. “He’s running the ball as effective as anybody in the conference. I think his toughness level speaks for itself, especially playing through the injury that he had last year. Our message is we got to keep playing hard and keep playing tough and Rakeem is showing that and he’s doing that.”
He will need to be healthy going up against the defensive front of Auburn.
Not only finish drives by getting the ball in the end zone, but finish games, especially on defense. Granted, the offense could help tremendously by keeping the defense off the field. The Hogs are 13th in the SEC in time of possession, averaging just under 28 minutes per game. Only South Carolina, among SEC teams, has possessed the ball less.
Giving the defense some rest would help immensely in those critical 4th quarter situations. So would finishing drives by scoring points. The Razorbacks are last in the SEC in red zone conversions, scoring points in just 65.22 percent of its opportunities.
Getting there hasn’t been the problem; finishing has. In the SEC, only Vanderbilt has scored fewer times when entering the red zone. And the Hogs are last in the conference scoring touchdowns in the red zone, finding paydirt just 43.48 percent of the time.
Finding a way to convert those chances will be crucial Saturday if Arkansas has any hope of pulling the upset.
4. No more Mr. Nice Guy
I’d really like to see someone light a fire under Morris. Too many times I see him give his players a pat on the back when they’ve made a key mistake. Yes, he’s trying to stay positive and keep his team’s spirits up through these troubling times.
But c’mon man, if you’re coaching them up like you’re supposed to be and they keep making crucial mistakes that cause detriment to the team and the process, it’s time to start chewing some backside.
It’s Year 2. It’s time for these players to step up and make plays. And if they continue to fail, you need to let them know that’s not acceptable anymore. The time for hand-holding is over.
5. Keep fighting
Despite the outcomes, the Razorbacks continue to fight through the adversity. That’s a tribute to the character of the players, and we also have to give credit to the coaches for that as well. They haven’t given up on the players and vise versa.
The will to win remains, and that’s essential for a program to turn things around. As long as the Hogs keep fighting, they’ll continue to have an opportunity to come out on top. Execution, well that’s another story, but as long as the team still has some fight left in them there remains a chance at reversing fortunes.